Archive for April, 2016

Helping Robots Move

Long programs known as algorithms are written to help robots move about on their own. These algorithms can be of two types – centralised and decentralised. In the centralised system the decisions for movement of all robots are made by one single computer. While in the decentralised version each robot makes decisions for itself. As you can understand from this primary difference, designing a decentralised algorithm which helps robots move is fairly difficult.

Also one major advantage the decentralised system has is that even if one of the computers shuts down, the others can still make decisions. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology the researchers have been working on a decentralised system for teams of robots that factors in not only stationary obstacles, but also moving obstacles. The system that they have come up with takes far less bandwidth for the communication as well as ensures that they never collide.

Even though each robot is essentially guessing what the other robot is going to do, the decentralised system is what the future of robotics needs. Designing the system had the researchers combining many challenging goals. It is still far from perfected, but it is a good start to an interesting science project which will be fairly long lasting.

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Robotic Body Language

When humans communicate its with more than just the words we speak. There is the tone, the pitch and then of course al those body movements made subtly that comprise of body language. This is one of the reasons that speaking with robots, who may answer the questions accurately, doesn’t always seem natural. Now researchers are giving robots a class in body language which will make it easier for us to understand them.

A recent science study published in Frontiers in Psychology speaks of making robots move their hands like humans do. Apparently it helps humans understand the robots better when they do these iconic hand actions. Iconic gestures have a distinct meaning, like opening a door or a book, and using gestures together with speech is known as “multi-modal communication.”

In essence of you have a common hand signal that both humans and robots know means a specific thing, it makes communicating with the robotic avatars that much easier. The project was conducted by having an actor read a specific script using normal hand movements and then a computer generated avatar did the same using the iconic gestures programmed. The people who saw both felt that the gestures contributed to a better understanding of what the speaker said.

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Overcome Social Phobias by Speaking to Your Computer

A collaborative research team at the University of Bristol is finding new uses for humanoid robots and computer avatars. The theory is that they may be helpful in rehabilitating patients who suffer from extreme forms of social disorders and phobias.

It is easier to interact with someone who looks, talks and generally behaves like us, when trying to get rid of fears. A mirror game developed by the researchers allows two players to copy each other’s motions while playing with balls on a string. The avatar usually looks like the patient and is programmed to initially copy movements of the person.

Gradually the alter ego of the computer avatar may be programmed to help the patient make healthy changes. The feedback from the person is embedded in the avatar and programming is quite complex. However the researchers are very excited about the work they have managed to accomplish.

The next level of the science project is to set up multiple human and computer interactions in a social set up. Allowing the group of people and their avatars to interact and perform common tasks together. This will also help the patients overcome their social phobias in a controlled environment. Naturally this phase is going to be even more challenging than the first.

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Measuring Rain Drops from Space

What does the size of a rain drop matter? Why would scientists require to measure them? Well apparently the size of the raindrops is one of the factors that determines how big a storm will grow. It can also help speculate about how long a storm will last as well as how much rain can be expected to fall.

At the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. NASA meteorologists have been taking three dimensional pictures of raindrops and snowflakes. That in itself may not seem so great, but when you consider that the pictures are actually being taken globally, from outer space, then there is a definite difference.

Joe Munchak, research meteorologist hopes that this study will help them make more accurate weather models in the future. Researchers call the number of raindrops and snowflakes of different sizes at various locations within a cloud the “particle size distribution.” He is hopeful that by co-relating the date with what they already know, the predictions of flash floods will become more accurate as well.

This particular science project may not have been possible if NASA had not partnered with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission. The successful gathering of data will only be surpassed by the predictions the meteorologists make.

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Ready for Vertical Lift Off

Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA has spent a considerable amount of time and money trying to perfect an aircraft that would be able to achieve a vertical lift off. An unmanned vertical take-off and landing  or VTOL aircraft is sure to have a number of advantages for the military. That is exactly what they hope as they give the contract to construct the X-Plane to Aurora Flight Sciences.

As per the given description, “DARPA’s Vertical Takeoff and Landing Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) program seeks to provide innovative cross-pollination between fixed-wing and rotary-wing technologies and by developing and integrating novel subsystems to enable radical improvements in vertical and cruising flight capabilities.”

The plane is to have a four thousand horse power engine which will generate three megawatts of electricity to power the twenty four ductless fans of the aircraft. It will have the capacity to carry about four thousand five hundred kilograms of weight and travel at a top speed of four hundred and sixty miles per hour.

What’s more fascinating is that the X-plane will have the ability to shift from hover to flight mode on demand. Needless to say that the working prototype is going to be a really amazing step in the ongoing science project to get the perfect VTOL aircraft.

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